Original article: http://www.irwomen.info/spip.php?article6557
Original author: Mehdi Afroozmanesh
Translated by: Naghmeh
The Society of Iranian Women -Mehdi Afroozmanesh: Although prostitution has not been officially approved in Iran, it has been the subject of academic discussions and decision making by many people. This contradiction, rather than arising from the sensitive nature of prostitution, comes from the ideological position of decision makers who lay the blame on government misconduct. Hence they turn to denial as an alternative solution.
On the other hand, there are people that consider this to be a worldwide problem and in light of its fast growth in developing countries including Iran, these people want to officially recognize this phenomenon in order to solve the problem and come up with a plan to deal with it. There is not much research on prostitution in Iran. Experts say that the two most important reasons for this are: the difficulty to research this subject due to the distinctive character of this profession and the lack of government support or planning regarding these kinds of topics.
In addition to all of the above concerns, Saeed Madani, one of the experts on Iran’s social problems, explains the changes among Tehran’s prostitute community in terms of population, age, social and cultural characteristics. Below is the text of an interview with this researcher:
In light of the sensitivity and taboo regarding sex related subjects in Iran, researching prostitution seems very brave?
Definitely, research in this subject is very difficult especially for a male researcher. In addition, prostitution being illegal calls for the research on this topic to take place behind the scenes which makes it even more difficult. As you know, if a woman gets arrested for the crime of prostitution, her punishment will be anything from imprisonment for two months to being stoned to death. Therefore, it is very difficult to gain their trust and get their help in this research, which is very similar to the situation of research on drug addicts on the streets 20 years ago. Of course, the same problem arises when they need to be given hygienic care. Please let me start this interview with a correction and point out that one should not use the word prostitute for these women. In fact, this word has a negative connotation for these women, and research ethics compels us to avoid using it. Perhaps “somebody who is paid for using her body” is a better term. Although the world “sex worker” is used worldwide especially in research literature, I don’t agree with using this term because using that word make this job seem a legitimate means to make money, and the theoretical basis of this term is liberalism and libertarianism.
Because of this reason, we have very few documents in this area. Is the best research done from the year 1347?
Although, we should not disregard researches done in 1357 by Mr. Tourikian and in 1372 by Dr. Sarvestani, Dr. Farmanian‘s study in 1347is still one of the best source for information in the last 40 years.
For the same reason, the focus of the researches is on the ones being imprisoned or in the support centers. Naturally, the result of these researches had contradiction with the reality.
Dr. Farmanian’s research is one of the greatest social studies in Iran. She analyzed prostitution pattern, individual characteristics, and action methods in her studies. Her research is valuable because it had been done on free and active prostitutes. There were a lot of limitations to research this topic after the revolution; therefore, most researches were on imprisoned women or the ones in the support centers.
There are still lots of limitations. Unfortunately, our administrators associate social problems with politics and government misconduct.
It is clear that evaluating public condition can be a judgment base for government action. It is the Government’s fault that this phenomenon is held undercover. Although, the sensitivity decreased before the government ninth period settlement. However, because of all the limitations, the first research was done by Dr. Seddigh in’۱۳۷۲ based on police force request; it began its new chapter with 2 new researches in ‘۱۳۸۴.
With these 2 researches we experienced the same condition as ‘۱۳۴۷. The analysis was done on free and active prostitutes. On the other hand, I always was wondering why all the researches were done in Tehran except 2 of them which were done in Tabriz and Shiraz?
Although, this is normal because Tehran is the biggest city in Iran; it has the largest population and seems to be a destination for most travelers. In fact, working on this kind of researches is very difficult in small cities especially on free and active prostitutes.
However, you obtain very interesting conclusion which is valuable compared to 1347’s documents in regards to evaluation of government social political performance in last 40 years.
There are lots of points of views about prostitution in Iran. Yet, it was interesting for me also to see all the changes since 1347. Lots of changes have occurred in these types of women’s personality and family background. Average age has been decreased among these women and lots of younger women got into this profession. 1347’s survey showed the average age of 31 years old; however, in 1387’s survey the average age is 26-27 years old.
What is the starting age?
Prostitutes usually work for average of 5 years which this makes the starting age to be 21-22 years.
Was the average age less than this before?
Yes, but all the researches were done on the women in the support centers. Women are brought to these centers who are arrested for their first time. It is almost impossible not getting arrested for years of working, so usually younger women were kept in the centers. The average age reported is less because it was obtained from these centers. Please don’t forget we are talking about the average age of these women, so there are lots of younger women among prostitutes.
In the social forums, prostitution among committed people was the subject of the recent challenges. Is there any evidence to confirm it?
Unlike 1940s which most prostitutes were the ones who started this career after their divorce, there are lots of single and committed women working as prostitutes now.
There are some justifications for the single girls doing this, but the story gets more complicated and sad for committed ones especially when they have their husbands supports. Why do they get into this action?
As you mentioned, this subject is complicated and sad. This phenomenon does not follow one model as what we have seen in the past too. On the other hand, there are different types of husbands in among these families. For example addicted husbands who force their wives to use drugs and be addicted and then to become a prostitute in order to bring money for drugs. There are another group of husbands who don’t make enough money to make their lives so their wives become prostitute in order to help their husband either with or without their awareness. However, do you think this is worse than getting married to a guy 20 years older in order to have better quality of life and more money?
Is there any relationship between increasing prostitution among committed women and increasing divorces because of sexual matters in the country? When economic problems would not seem to be the main reason for the younger women starting this job, can we start talking about the secondary motivations of these women to do such a job?
Please don’t forget prostitution is a job which involves sexual relationship without considering law or religion in order to receive money or merchandise. Hence, the motivation for prostitution is to make money and not to enjoy. Evidently, most prostitutes not only don’t enjoy their job but also they hate it. Therefore, the main motivation for prostitution is financial matters and it is a way to avoid poverty or have better quality of life. We should not mistake this with “Promiscuity” which is having several sexual partners for joyous reasons. As a result, the main and the secondary reasons for prostitution are still financial matters. The main reason is to avoid poverty and the secondary reason is to have better life style. One is the emergency situation and the other one is not.
Dr Farmanian mentioned that 90% of prostitutes are not educated in her research in 1347.
As I said before, the form of prostitution has changed compare to the past; in fact, these changes affected all of the social problems. The prostitutes’ situations have been changed too. 90% of prostitutes are educated now. We came across those with college degrees; some of them even have higher degrees from graduate schools. It is interesting to see that the rate of these changes is pretty high, and they are in the same direction of the improvement of education through out the whole country. The other thing is that 70% of these women either are from Tehran or live in Tehran for long time. This is opposite of Dr. Farmanian’s survey which showed most of these women immigrated to Tehran at that time.
These results showed that knowledgeable women enter this profession. Unfortunately, some girls began this profession with lack of information, therefore we should know that the dreams of immigrant, poor, and uneducated girls who begin this profession due to necessity and lack of knowledge is comparable to the ones in Iranian TV series and movies. Is that right?
Not only these ferry tails but also the assumption that these women suffer from psychological problems (is false). Similar form of prostitution still exists. Prostitution is still the only way to make money for some in need women and girls. Unavailability of jobs and high unemployment makes the situation a lot harder especially for women. It seems government tries to ease this problem too. For example, the family law makes prostitution official and legal.
Some of the researches show that these women have lower IQ?
There are lots of evidences against this statement. If some of these women have lower IQ, it does not mean they have psychological problems. Our studies also confirm this theory which psychological problems of these groups of people are not any higher than psychological problems of the average people in the society. However, this is different depending on families’ condition. A lot of researches show that the girls, who experienced sexual abuse at younger age, have more tendencies to become prostitute when they grow up. In our researches 30% of women confirmed they were victims of sexual abuse in their childhood.
A similar research showed that 48% of these women were complaining of lack of love in their families?
Basically, Family background is very important in getting into this profession. Also, having a prostitute among family members or friends.
By forgetting the dreams of immigrant girls who are pushed into this profession by lack of knowledge, poverty, or turning in to a slave by dirty hands of another person, and by adding choice which is having knowledge of these girls I think there should be newer motivations formed?
We found out most of these women do this in order to avoid discrimination. As I said before, these groups of women are unhappy because of their situation; on the other hand, it is impossible for them to have better life quality. For instance, they like to continue their education, but they could not get into public universities. Thus, they become prostitute in order to make money to pay tuition of the private schools. Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean any girl who goes to private school uses prostitution as a way to make money to pay her expenses.
Isn’t this the same economic factor of running away from poverty?
No, the motivation is more closely related to the quest for equality and justice than poverty. In fact, since the socio-economic architecture of the society does not provide women with equal opportunities for full participation in the civil life, they are forced to find the path to a better life by any means possible. Needless to say, some find this a futile attempt.
Aren’t we getting a bit too close to the views of leftist sociologists who find the root of all evil in economic inequities?
Incidentally, the role of class difference in this group is more palpable than in any other groups. You can basically divide female prostitutes into three groups. The first is the so called slum prostitutes who do it for subsistence or simply to have a place to sleep the night. The second group is the so called Simon de Beauvoir prostitutes who live and work in the wealthy part of the city and are in a position to determine their fee and clientele. The third group lies somewhere in the middle. Now, pay attention to the distance between the first two groups. While the first have to work under any conditions and on some days even have more than one client, high class women have all the means to choose their clients, set their fees and even say no. To put it plainly, the culture of prostitutes is not much different than that of the society at large. Part of the process of data collection in our latest study coincided with the holy month of Moharram. It was interesting to see that there was a drastic reduction in the activities of these women city-wide. They mostly chose not to work in this period, and the ones who did work said they wouldn’t if they had a choice.
Do you believe that?
Few women actually enjoy this type of work.
I agree. Polls show that more than 70% of these women after beginning to prostitute also start to masturbate, which shows that they do not get physical satisfaction from their numerous intercourses. That said, would the elimination of inequality put an end to prostitution?
Ending prostitution is not a simple matter, but I suspect a big part of the problem will be solved. Assessments show that a common dream of all these women is to get out of prostitution. (They dream of) The day they can leave prostitution through marriage or being in a suitable financial situation, and the dream seems so real that it can cause problems of its own.
There are girls who despite their profession try to save their virginity by providing unconventional services which increases the chances of acquiring AIDS or other STD. You see that this group, even in their sexual acts and services try to remain true to their dream.
Did you encounter any success stories in this area?
This is just a dream. Few would be so lucky. Most leave this profession only when they cannot work anymore.
What sort of men are the clientele?
I should emphasize that studying the clientele is considerably more difficult than the prostitute themselves, since in addition to encountering legal problems; their social and family lives could also be jeopardized. Perhaps that is why I have not seen any independent studies about the clientele. But in our studies, we asked the women about the characteristics of their clients which led to interesting results. For instance, a 38-year-old prostitute divided her clientele into six groups: “Fist, men who don’t get satisfaction from their own wives, second, those men whose sexual needs go beyond what their wives are willing to provide, third, boys at the beginning of their sexual activities often under peer pressure, the forth and most important group are wealthy men who don’t know what to do with all their money, fifth, men who are not the family type and enjoy activities with their male friends more than family fun, and sixth, men who pretend to be religious at home and consequently have kept their wife confined to backwards traditions that do not satisfy them sexually and so have to find satisfaction elsewhere.” Perhaps this is not the most precise categorization of their clientele, but it provides a by and large comprehensive picture. In this study, in the prostitutes’ assessment, most of the men are in the 30-50 year age group. In other words, more than half of the clientele are middle age. The next group is the youth (18-29). According to the women interviewed, more thant half the men are married and are mostly high school or college graduates. An interesting finding in our study was that the prostitutes had an unfavorable attitude towards their clientele. In several occasions, when the interviewer mistakenly used the word whore, they objected claiming that the word suits their clientele rather than them.